Extracellular vesicles and their immunomodulatory functions in pregnancy

  • Soumyalekshmi Nair
  • Carlos Salomon


Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are membrane-bound vesicles released into the extracellular space by almost all types of cells. EVs can cross the physiological barriers, and a variety of biological fluids are enriched in them. EVs are a heterogeneous population of vesicles, including exosomes, microvesicles, and apoptotic bodies. The different subpopulations of vesicles can be differentiated by size and origin, in which exosomes (~100 nm and from endocytic origin) are the most studied so far. EVs have essential roles in cell-to-cell communication and are critical modulators of immune response under normal and pathological conditions. Pregnancy is a unique situation of immune-modulation in which the maternal immune system protects the fetus from allogenic rejection and maintains the immunosurveillance. The placenta is a vital organ that performs a multitude of functions to support the pregnancy. The EVs derived from the human placenta have crucial roles in regulating the maternal immune response for successful pregnancy outcome. Placenta-derived vesicles perform a myriad of functions like suppression of immune reaction to the developing fetus and establishment and maintenance of a systemic inflammatory response to combat infectious intruders. A fine-tuning of these mechanisms is quintessential for successful completion of pregnancy and healthy outcome for mother and fetus. Dysregulation in the mechanisms mentioned above can lead to several pregnancy disorders. In this review, we summarize the current literature regarding the critical roles played by the EVs in immunomodulation during pregnancy with particular attention to the placenta-derived exosomes.


Pregnancy Extracellular vesicles Exosomes Immune response 


Funding information

This study received funding from Lions Medical Research Foundation and Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Científico y Tecnológico (FONDECYT 1170809).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Exosome Biology Laboratory, Centre for Clinical Diagnostics, University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research, Royal Brisbane and Women’s HospitalThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Clinical Biochemistry and Immunology, Faculty of PharmacyUniversity of ConcepciónConcepciónChile

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